The insects are everywhere! They look like jumbo grasshoppers with wings and emerge from underground dormancy every seventeen years to swarm for their mating ritual. My teacher says there are as many as a million-and-a-half bugs in a single acre of earth. Regan peddles around on her Big Wheel with ziplock bags and collects the little empty bug-shaped shells they shed on trees and window screens and sometimes on our stereo speakers if they manage their way inside the house.
“I know we were right here,” Sadie is adamant. We’ve walked through the campground several times, loaded down with a cast iron skillet and an old drywall bucket full of dishes. There is no sign of Henry or my uncle Bob.
Bob is not really our uncle, although he used to be married to my aunt Kate (the body builder) before I was born. Somehow he ended up with her best friend, who he is still with, but everyone loves him and he is especially good friends with Henry. They take us camping in the summer, but my mother never comes with us.
“You’re a nerd,” Sadie reminds me daily, despite my endless efforts to reap her approval. When I was three she taught me what she was learning in school and regrets it fiercely because I wrote her name on the wall and she got blamed for it. Nevertheless, I started reading for enjoyment very early. Kindergarten lasted only two weeks before I was moved into the First Grade, though my mother claims to have been morally opposed to the advancement for reasons of emotional readiness.
“Emma’s the genius in the family,” Mom Stephens says to someone on the phone. My paternal grandmother doodles artistic masterpieces of beautiful faces on a scratch pad at the kitchen table while she talks. Educated at a Brooklyn art school, her pre-retirement career was fashion design for storefront windows. Her name, Maggie, is written in calligraphy everywhere, even hand-painted in white on her red tool box.
On Sunday mornings, we drive down the windy road to the little white Southern Free Will Baptist Church.
“…take one down, pass it around, thirty-nine bottles of beer on the wall…,” Sadie and I sing the whole way.
The church is tiny but not stuffy like my aunt Martha’s church with its high ceilings and stained glass windows where they all stand and sing from the hymnals in opera-like manner to the sound of an organ. No, these people are boisterous and happy and crank out music on guitars and banjos.